Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington,.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance before AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington served as a reminder of his formidable abilities as orator. We can’t think of another Israeli politician who can work the crowd better than Netanyahu – and do it in perfect English.
Netanyahu seemed unaffected by the four separate investigations into purported wrongdoings, which include a police report that found grounds for indicting him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
And most of his 30-minute speech was decidedly upbeat.
Stepping out from behind the podium so that he could see the 18,000-strong crowd that had gathered at AIPAC, he used a presentation that’s he honed many times over the last year – including at December’s Jerusalem Post Conference – to outline Israel’s myriad contributions to the world.
“People in the world are safer because Israel is there to protect innocent lives,” Netanyahu said, referring to a plot by Islamic State to blow up a plane flying out of Australia that was foiled by IDF intelligence unit 8200. He said that there were dozens of similar examples of how Israeli intelligence has saved the lives of non-Israelis.
“We are able to do this thanks to the extraordinary soldiers of the IDF soldiers, white and black, men and women, gay and straight, Druse, Arab and Circassian,” Netanyahu said to a round of applause. He then asked IDF veterans present in the crowd to stand up.
He went on to list Israel’s contributions to technological innovation, noting how all the giant information technology companies – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook – have major research centers in Israel.
“There is a reason [for Israel’s success]... it is the confluence of big data connectivity and artificial intelligence... it revolutionizes old industries and creates new industries.” One example of an old industry renewed by Israeli ingenuity is agriculture, Netanyahu said, recounting how during his recent trip to India, farmers there told how Israeli technologies have helped increase productivity “four- fold, five-fold.” In Africa, Israeli technology can extract water “out of thin air.”
In the field of cybersecurity, Netanyahu took pride in Israel’s disproportionately high contributions: “Israel makes up one-tenth of 1% of the population, but receives 20% of global private investment in cybersecurity.”
Thanks to Israel’s tremendous capacities, many countries have an interest in maintaining good relations with it. Today, Israel does not have to worry about diplomatic isolation, rather “countries that don’t have relations with Israel are going to be isolated,” the prime minister said.
Then, in the last part of his speech, the mood changed. Netanyahu emphasized the danger presented by Iran in Syria, where Tehran seeks to set up military bases and gain access to a naval base in Tartus from which to attack Israel.
Referring to Iran, Netanyahu spoke of the “darkness that has descended on the region” in the Middle East and how a bad situation is “getting worse.” “So much of what is bad is from Iran... we must stop Iran, we will stop Iran.”
While we agree with Netanyahu that Iran must be stopped, the prime minister’s doomsday mood was incongruous with the first part of his speech, which rightly pointed out that Israel’s situation in its 70th year has never been better militarily, economically and socially. No one can threaten to take over Israeli territory. As bad as Iran is it does not have nuclear weapons. It cannot invade Israel or take over the Golan Heights. Israel’s relations with the US under the Trump administration have never been stronger.
In fact, the Islamic Republic’s aggression has actually pushed a number of Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – close to Israel as an important strategic asset and bulwark against Iranian expansionism.
So while Iran does present a challenge the situation is not as bleak as Netanyahu seems to think. Israel is not weak or isolated. And while Iran has had successes militarily, it is not strong enough to present an existential threat to Israel – so long as it is prevented from getting nuclear weapons.
We understand the prime minister’s desire in a high profile appearance in Washington to emphasize Tehran’s malevolent impact in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. But in doing so he need not make it seems as though Israel is too weak to bring light where Iran brings darkness.